Paralympians due home this evening


PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins and Taoiseach Enda Kenny hailed the most successful Irish Paralympic team ever yesterday.

The President described Team Ireland’s final medal tally of 16, including eight golds, as “an astonishing achievement”, while Mr Kenny said the team’s performance “has made the whole country proud and inspired the nation”.

“I wish the athletes a well- deserved chance to rest and spend time with their families after their extraordinary achievements, and I look forward to welcoming them to the Government reception on Friday,” Mr Kenny added.

The London Games concluded last night with Ireland lying in 19th position on the overall medal table.

Mr Higgins said the “courage, commitment and sporting prowess” of the athletes would “live long in the hearts and minds of the Irish people”. He described the gold medal-winning performances of Michael McKillop, Jason Smyth, Mark Rohan, Darragh McDonald and Bethany Firth as “brave and heart-warming”, and said the other medal winners were “wonderful” athletes.

He also hailed “some great performances which did not achieve medal success” and said “the combined efforts and success of our Olympic and Paralympic athletes makes all of us feel so proud, and we are indebted to them”.

The closing ceremony was held last night, with the Government being represented by the Irish Ambassador to Britain, Bobby McDonagh.

Minister for Sport Leo Varadkar said he had been unable to attend the closing ceremony because of “other responsibilities” and he described the team’s performance as “amazing”.

The chef de mission, Liam Harbison, said he was not concerned there was no ministerial representation at the closing ceremony.

He pointed out that both Mr Varadkar and Minister of State for Sport Michael Ring had been at the Games last week.

“For us, it is more important that they actively see the athletes compete rather than sit in the stands watching a ceremony.”

Team Ireland are flying home this evening on a CityJet flight from London City Airport and, after a brief media reception, will make their entrance into the main arrivals hall of Terminal 1 at about 8.15pm.

Mr Ring will officially welcome the team home on behalf of the Government.

A second Government-hosted reception will be held by the Taoiseach and the Minister for Sport at Farmleigh House in the Phoenix Park on Friday, with a further reception to be hosted by the President on October 22nd.

Irish runner Michael McKillop was chosen as the athlete who best exemplified the spirit of the Paralympic Games, alongside Kenya’s Mary Nakhumicha Zakayo, and the Whang Youn Dai Achievement Award winners received medals at last night’s closing ceremony.

The International Paralympic Committee said the Ballymena native, who struck gold in the 800m and 1,500m T37 events, was selected for the manner in which he had dedicated his time to helping and encouraging thousands of schoolchildren throughout Ireland.